May 16, 2013
It has been 40 years since Assata Shakur was convicted of gunning
down New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. During the trial,
Shakur was found guilty and sentenced to 26-33 years in prison.
However, in November 1979, she escaped from the Clinton County
Correctional Facility, spending several years underground—eventually
receiving political asylum in Cuba in 1984. One would have thought,
given the 21st century’s perpetual war on terror, that
Shakur’s killing of a police officer had been largely forgotten, but on
May 2 it was announced that forty years after her shootout on a New
Jersey turnpike, Shakur had been added to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. It begs to be asked why her—and why now?
Granted, at the time Shakur sought asylum in Cuba, there was no such
thing as the Most Wanted Terrorists list; it was created after the
events of 9/11. However, the current head of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains on the list but is curiously ranked 17. Luis Posada Carilles—convicted
in absentia in Panama for terrorist attacks throughout the Americas,
including bombing an airliner and killing 76 people, is walking around
free in the United States. Regarded as a real “Cold Warrior” in many
U.S. circles, he is universally considered to be a terrorist in the rest
of the hemisphere. The only legal battles Posada has had to face were
regarding perjury and remaining in the country without authorization.
Regarding the legitimacy of Shakur’s place on the list, the Christian Science Monitor reported that
“Nor is there any evidence that Shakur actually fired the shots that
took the life of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, said Rutgers
University criminal justice professor Lennox Hinds.” It has been well
documented via COINTELPRO
that during the 1970s the U.S. government undertook violent action
against black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party in
order to "neutralize" them.
Professor Hinds went on to state to Democracy Now
that “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and
the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to
characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted
of have nothing to do with terrorism.” If the meaning of terrorism can
be stretched in such a way by the U.S. government to include Shakur but
dismiss Posada Carilles—what is one to make of its legitimacy to
categorize offenders? One would be hard pressed to find a better double
standard defining who counts as a terrorist when it comes to Posada
Carilles and Shakur.
It has been speculated that the move was an attempt to pressure Cuba
to release Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for
delivering communications equipment to opposition groups via USAID’s
pro-democracy programs. Cuba has outlawed such “pro-democracy programs”
stating that they are subversive and intend to topple the government.
Little else has been said about the meaning behind the FBI moving
Shakur to number one on their list. It can be easily assumed that it was
done to intimidate and bully Cuba and try to somehow get the world to
believe that Cuba is a threat to the United States. It would appear that
the world has a strong track record on this issue and will not fall for
the bait, as 2012 was the 21st straight year
in which an overwhelming majority at the United Nations has called for
an end to the embargo. In the minds of the U.S. government, embargos and
sanctions are a useful tool to topple dictators and enemies of
Washington. The reality is that these policies only end up hurting the
civilian populations; it is a flawed idea which seeks to bring about
respect for human rights by denying them through the use of an embargo.
Yet this message has not sunk in.
On May 1, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell remarked that
Washington "has no current plans to remove Cuba" from the list of state
sponsors of terrorism. The fact that Cuba is even on the list to begin
with is evidence of outdated and irrational Cold War minds. Cuba sits on
the list with countries such as Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Is the U.S.
posturing trying to suggest that they will resort to another Bay of Pigs
invasion in order to get Shakur? Indeed the U.S. went to greater
lengths to get long time number one terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Is this
an act of militarism or confusion on behalf of the United States?
Whatever the case may be, such posturing reveals how problematic the
ongoing U.S. embargo with Cuba is and the ignorance of the U.S.
administration for refusing to jump into the 21st century. The United
States has normalized relations with the countries of the former Soviet
Union, China, Japan—and even treats North Korea and their ongoing
nuclear antics in a more respectable manner than it does Cuba. Since the
Cuban missile crisis, Cuba has never threatened the United States, but
the reverse cannot be said. Those arguing that the U.S. government is
pursuing the embargo on Cuba in the name of freedom need a reality
check. It has never been about freedom, it has always been about
exercising regional power and punishing the threat of revolution. There
are plenty of Latin American countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and
Chile which saw their respective struggles for freedom cut down in a
hail of U.S. sponsored bullets. Former U.S. ally and Guatemalan leader
Rios Montt was just convicted of genocide—and he never appeared on the
list of most wanted terrorists. If a nation is to stand against
terrorism, it should strongly condemn terrorism all forms—not just the
ones it finds convenient to oppose.